Accessible Church – More Than Just Ramps!

Anyone who has spoken to me for more than a few minutes will tell you that I’m pretty passionate about churches being accessible to disabled people and those with additional needs. But why do they need to be? Surely if they turn up each week, that’s enough, isn’t it? Personally, I don’t think it is. They may be turning up, but do they struggle to access the building and, once they’ve finally made it into the building are they able to access what is going on & understand it? Are they able to do more than just hand out the Bibles or make the drinks after the service? Are they talked to as friends or is it more of a case of being ignored? It’s estimated that 90% of disabled people don’t attend church and, to be fair, if I didn’t feel like I was being welcomed, I wouldn’t want to show up either.

John 3 verse 16 says ” For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die, but have eternal life.” It says anyone – God doesn’t exclude anybody and neither should we. If you look at who Jesus spent time with you’ll see that he spent it with women, children, those who were sick or disabled, prostitutes and tax collectors. These were all people who were rejected by society at that time. One thing that Covid-19 has shown us is that the sick and disabled people can still be an afterthought in today’s society. We saw ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ orders placed on disabled people’s hospital notes without their or their family’s knowledge or permission. We also heard regularly on the news that it was really only those with underlying conditions that were likely to die from the virus as if that was in some way ok. Disabled people might be an afterthought when it comes to society, but let’s not let them be an afterthought in the Church. Church should be a place where everyone can be welcomed, included and feel like they belong.

So what are some of the things that you can do to help make church a place of inclusion and belonging for disabled people?

Talk to the experts!

Talk to the disabled members of your church as they are the experts on their own disability! Find out if there’s anything that makes church difficult to attend. It might be physically getting to the church, getting into the building or some other difficulty once they’re inside (too much noise, lights are too bright, unable to hear what’s being said etc.). There’s a saying in the disability community that says “Nothing about us, without us!”, so make sure the disabled person is included in the discussions about how things can be improved to help them!

Build relationships

This may seem like an obvious comment, but make friends with the disabled people in your church. So often members of the church will talk to the family members who have come to church, but ignore the disabled person. Just because someone is autistic, deaf, blind, a wheelchair user etc. doesn’t meant that they can’t communicate! Even if the person is non verbal, they will still be able to communicate – you just need to communicate their way. By befriending disabled people in the church you’re actually saying “You matter and you’re important to me and to God” You’ll also start seeing them as someone made in God’s image (and that has to be a good thing!)

Use their gifts!

Once you’ve had chance to get to know them, you’ll find that disabled people have gifts that God has given them (just like non disabled people). However, do they get a chance to use them in your church or, as I mentioned earlier, are they limited to handing out Bibles and making tea? I hope it’s the former and not the latter (unless, of course, they make amazing cups of tea!). When I became the Inclusion Champion at my previous church I was determined that everybody should be encouraged to use their God given gifts. There were a couple of guys who loved drawing and colouring, so I asked if they’d like to do a drawing to illustrate a Bible verse or story. The picture at the beginning of this blog is just one of the pictures that was produced and put up in the church. I received several more pictures over the coming months. It was such a simple thing to ask them to do, but they were so pleased to be asked do them and it made them feel liked they belonged at the church. Another example is my son, Kieran, who has Aspergers. He loves all things to do with technology and has helped on the sound desk at church for several years. Recently this has expanded to editing online services and helping to livestream services too. This all happened due to someone spotting his gifting and asking him to be involved. Maybe there’s someone in your church who could lead worship, preach, do the Bible reading, be part of the prayer team etc. but because they have a disability they’ve been overlooked. What blessings could you be missing out on because they’ve been overlooked?

Inclusion Champion

Consider appointing an Inclusion Champion – someone who is willing to look at what your church does and pull together the strategy, resources and planning needed to make your church accessible. They can also be a point of contact for the disabled members of your church. This doesn’t need to be a paid role and the person fulfilling this role doesn’t have to be an expert on disability (although having some knowledge can be helpful) – as I’ve already said, the disabled people in your church are the experts. However, the person does need to be willing to look at what is already done through the eyes of those who are disabled and see what reasonable adjustments can be made to make things easier for them. As someone who has done this role, I can totally recommend being an Inclusion Champion. However, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the church can sit back and leave inclusion to the Inclusion Champion – everyone can be involved in some way!

Training and advice

I would recommend arranging for someone to come and provide training for people in your church. There will be a lot of good help, ideas and information given in the training, so do try and get as many people from your church to come along. There are several people and organisations who provide disability inclusion training for churches, including Through The Roof, Count Everyone In and Urban Saints. Of course, due to Covid-19 restrictions, training is being done via Zoom at the moment. I have done all four of the Urban Saints courses and can highly recommend them. Whichever course you do, it will really help you recognise where extra support might be needed.

If you have children and young people in your church with additional needs and disabilities you can get help and support via the Additional Needs Alliance. They have a website and a Facebook group. The Facebook group has over 2,500 members, made up of church leaders, parents/carers, Inclusion Champions, people who do training and most importantly people who have additional needs/disabilities. There is always someone who will know an answer to your question because they’ve come across it too! The Facebook group is set to Private, so you will need to ask to join and answer a couple of questions before being accepted (don’t worry, they’re not difficult!) The website also has a list of accessible churches, so if your church is accessible, why not add it on to the list too? Both the Facebook group and the website have many resources to help your church become more accessible so do check them out.

Resources

Once you or your Inclusion Champion have had a chance to discover what needs there are, there is a good chance that you may need to get some extra resources to help give support. It’s great if your church has a huge amount of money going spare (although I have yet to know of a church like this!), but if it doesn’t, don’t worry as it really doesn’t have to be expensive.

  • Signed songs: Why not, as a church, learn how to sign some songs in either Sign Language or Makaton. There are plenty on YouTube – just search Doug Horley, John Hardwick or Becky George. Becky has also signed some church liturgy and Bible verses in Makaton too.
  • Large Print Resources: Make sure that if you have a printed notice sheet, that there are also some large print copies available too. It’s quite easy to do using either a photocopier or by changing the font/paper size on the original document. Also check whether you have large print Bibles. If you don’t, consider getting some – if funds are limited, why not ask church members to buy a large print Bible and donate it to the church (do remember to specify which version you want!). Personally, I would opt for the NIrV Accessible Edition as it’s not only large print but accessible in so many other ways too (find out more here).
  • Fidget toys and calm area: For many people with additional needs sensory overload can be quite common, so try and provide a quiet area where someone who is finding it difficult can go to relax. Have some seating there and provide some calming lighting, along with ear defenders and some sensory items to help them manage and regulate the sensory input. Whenever I pop to the shops I just keep an eye out for anything that could be a good fidget toy. Spiral hair bands, chenille sticks (pipe cleaners), bubble wrap, bean bags (check to see if the children’s groups at your church have any going spare!) and Blu Tack all make cheap fidget toys. However, do check that the person using the Blu Tack doesn’t tend to chew everything for sensory input as it may not be too good for them! Now that the craze for fidget spinners has died down, these can also be bought quite cheaply. Have some fidget toys in church and the children/youth groups too as they can help aid focus and concentration.
  • Bibles: It’s no use having a Bible given to you as you walk into church if you then find it difficult to read what is written in it! I’ve already mentioned the NIrV Accessible Edition which, although only published a few years ago has already helped so many people access the Word of God. There are also other accessible Bibles including the Brick Bible, Minecraft Bible, Action Bible. Consider signing some verses in Sign Language or Makaton. Videos of signed Bible verses can be found on YouTube, but be aware that sign language, like all languages, varies from country to country so do check beforehand which sign language is being used. Prospects for People with Learning Disability (now part of Livability) have some wonderful signed verses on their YouTube channel

The best resource you can possibly have in your church are people who love others like Jesus did and treat people the way he did!

Pray

Do pray for the disabled members of your church, but don’t ever assume what they need prayer for. It may be that you have a deaf man that comes to your church every week. If he comes over for prayer don’t assume that he wants to be able to hear. He may well have come over for prayer about a job interview that’s coming up or one of many, many other things. Always ask what it is that someone needs prayer for. Also, don’t touch someone when praying for them (or at any other time!) without asking. As well as invading their personal space, they may very well be sensitive to touch or have a condition which means touch can be painful.

Livestreaming

Most churches have got used to livestreaming their church services over the last year. It has had a huge benefit for disabled people in that those who have struggled to attend or never been able to attend church have, for this last year, been able to go to church. However, now that more and more churches are returning to the building, some are beginning to stop livestreaming the service. I know it can mean extra work for the church tech team, but I wish they would consider keeping the livestream going. By stopping it, churches will be stopping some disabled people from attending church. If your church is going to keep livestreaming the service, why not ask some of the disabled people and anyone else who may not be able to attend the church building, to take part in the service. It could be by leading the prayers, reading the Bible passage or maybe even preaching – all of which could be recorded beforehand. It can really help them to feel like they belong in the church family.

These are just a few ideas you might want to try in your church to make it more accessible. However, don’t forget to include the disabled members of your church in the conversation. Here’s to seeing more truly accessible churches in the future!

Lynnette

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Why I don’t celebrate Mother’s Day

Here in the UK, today is Mother’s Day – a fact I only became aware of just a few days ago! However, it will pass almost unnoticed in our house. Now, that isn’t down to my grown up children forgetting about it! Nor is it that I’m anti Mother’s Day – I have celebrated it in the past. However, in recent years I’ve preferred not to celebrate it. This post will hopefully explain why.

The most obvious reason that I don’t celebrate it is that I no longer have a Mum. My lovely Mum died almost 8 years ago and since then Mother’s Day hasn’t really been of any interest. Thankfully, a few companies are now recognising that Mother’s Day can be difficult for some people and send out an email a few week’s beforehand, giving you an option to opt out of Mother’s Day emails. Other people often don’t understand my decision not to celebrate the day and I’ve had well meaning friends say things like “You should celebrate it because you’re a Mum” and “We’ve all had a Mum and that should be celebrated”. However for me, it’s just another reminder that my Mum’s not there anymore. So, today I may get my son saying “Happy Mother’s Day” to me and possibly a Facebook message from my daughter saying the same and that’s just fine. However, if I don’t get that, well that’s fine too!

Another reason I don’t celebrate it is that my two children show me throughout the year what I mean to them. This can be coming to have a chat, giving me a hug, checking in via Facebook Messenger when they’re not at home, bringing in a surprise treat, making a cup of tea etc. As a result, I don’t need them to have a special day where they’re guilt tripped by various companies into buying me something (often at an increased cost) to tell me they love me. I already know that they do!

Personally, I’ve found that over the years, like so many big celebration days, it’s become far too commercial. In the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, you get bombarded by advertising emails from companies you’ve used in the past trying to get you to spend your money with them rather than one of their rivals for Mother’s Day. As I said earlier, at least some of them now give you the option to opt out of them. You also notice that shops start increasing the cost of flowers, chocolates and other ‘ideal presents for Mum’ in the run up to the day. Although, over the years I’ve had some lovely presents from my children, I always preferred the card and present that they made at school because it was made by them with love. It was always so much better than anything shop bought!

As I mentioned previously, Mother’s Day is a day which serves as a yearly reminder that I don’t have a Mum. I’m not alone in this as many people are in a similar position to me. However, other people can find it equally difficult because their child has died or because they are unable to have children. Others may find it hard because they never had a good relationship with their Mum. If you pray, why not spend some time this Mother’s Day praying for those who find the day difficult each year?

If you’re celebrating Mother’s Day, I hope you have a lovely day being spoilt by your children. If, like me, you’re not then enjoy whatever you do today. If you find it difficult, then go gently and look after yourself.

Lynnette

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Aspergers – Just A Little Bit Autistic?

I was watching BBC Breakfast last week and they showed a report on difficulties getting employment at the moment due to the pandemic. They interviewed one lad who they described as having “ADHD and mild autism”. I have to admit that that description annoyed me…..a lot! Why? Well, you’re either autistic or you’re not! There’s not a mild version of autism, but each autistic person will have a variety of things that they struggle with. I assume that the lad probably has Aspergers, like my son. By saying that he had ‘mild autism’ it says that he doesn’t really have any struggles fitting into a neurotypical (non autistic) world, which I’m sure isn’t the case and that, like Kieran, he’s learnt strategies to cope.

Kieran’s story

Our son was diagnosed with Aspergers in March 2015, aged 16, followed a few days later with a diagnosis of epilepsy. We had suspected he was on the autism spectrum for a few years, so the diagnosis of Aspergers was welcomed (the epilepsy one not so much!). We had started the assessment process when he was 12 and it had been a long 4 year wait for the diagnosis. It was greeted by cheering and high fives as we were relieved that someone else had (at last!) seen the differences in Kieran that we had seen. I must add here that not all families feel like we did when they get the diagnosis of autism – for many it can be a shock and feel like a disaster and they will need a lot of support to come to terms with it. I was fortunate that I had worked in an ASD unit at a local school, where I worked with some wonderful autistic children. This had given me some knowledge of autism – maybe that’s why it didn’t feel quite so scary. However, other people’s reaction to the news sometimes baffled me. We had a lot of people say “I’m sorry” like Aspergers was one of the most awful things you could be diagnosed with – it’s not! We also had someone say “I’d never have guessed, he seems so normal” which actually implied that anyone with Aspergers isn’t normal (whatever normal is!) – thanks for that! The reason he doesn’t always seem autistic when you first meet him is that he has had to work hard to fit in to the neurotypical world so he can be accepted by others. Sadly this is what many autistic people do and it is exhausting for them. It didn’t stop after the diagnosis either with people telling me that some of the things Kieran struggles with were “just typical behaviour of teenage boys”. If that was the case, I’d love to know why he’s still struggling with the same things now he’s in his 20s!

Executive Functioning

Executive functioning is defined as the cognitive abilities that control and regulate most of what we do in life. It helps with time management, organising, planning and problem solving plus much, much more. Kieran’s executive functioning certainly doesn’t work as well as it should. I often have to remind him to get up, despite the fact that he has several alarms to remind him. He can also struggle to get out of the house in time to go to work without a reminder or two. When he was younger he was forever losing things at school (coats, gloves, book bag, etc.) or forgetting to take something in to school (which occassionally resulted in a detention!). When it comes to tidying his room, he can only cope with sorting one thing at a time (books, clothes, recycling etc), before being given the next suggestion of what to sort. He struggles to have a list to help him tidy his room as it makes the task seem too big, so either me or my husband have to be there to help him. There are more ways that Kieran’s executive functioning is affected, but I don’t want to make this post too long, so maybe I’ll return to this subject in another post.

Motor Skills and Coordination

This is something else that can be a struggle for Kieran. As a result he’s not learnt how to swim or ride a bicycle yet. If I’m honest, I don’t think he ever will – not because he wouldn’t be able to (with good support), but he finds getting the coordination right quite difficult and now has no interest in learning. As a result, Kieran didn’t take the cycling proficiency test or do any swimming galas whilst growing up. It also took him until late teenage years before he learnt to tie shoe laces – it was just too difficult and fiddly. The thing that changed it for him was finding this video on YouTube (start at 1:19). Maybe if you know someone who struggles to tie their shoelaces it may be worth watching it! We also bought him an electronic games advent calendar last Christmas, where you could build your own electronic game each day. We thought it would be good for someone who likes technology. However, he found it too fiddly and gave up after one day! As his parents, we should have guessed that he might find it hard, but we still try to give him opportunities to develop his motor skills and coordination, even if it doesn’t always work out!

Communication

Now anyone who has met Kieran knows he can talk just fine. It wasn’t always the case and he was over 2 years old before he said anything. Single words weren’t really a thing – he said one or two, but quickly moved into using whole sentences. I remember my Mum commenting that he spoke in a very grown up way despite his young age. However, communication is far more than just talking! Kieran has found understanding sayings difficult and we’ve spent most of his life trying to explain them to him. This has actually been a good thing for us, as using sayings can come too easily and sometimes you forget the meaning behind them! He’s now at a point where he’ll understand if it’s a saying that he’s come across before, but we still get asked to explain unfamiliar ones. Understanding someone’s tone of voice can be another difficult area for him. For instance, we have sometimes been accused of being angry with him when all we’ve done is talked a little bit louder than normal. Processing language can be another area where life is difficult. If more than one question or instruction are asked in the same sentence (or one straight after the first), he will have trouble processing what he’s been asked to do. This can lead to him doing/answering just the first thing or maybe none at all! Occasionally this can lead to a meltdown as there can be too much to process, which is stressful for both him and the person supporting him through the meltdown (usually me).

Senses

Kieran has a few sensory issues. One of them is touch, which you will have discovered if you’ve ever tried to get his attention by tapping him on the arm or shoulder. It’s really uncomfortable for him and he will pull away and sometimes scream. As a family we have had to learn to ask before giving him a hug and on occasions, he’s refused. Another one is noise, but not always loud noise – it often depends on the pitch. So something fairly quiet, like a flute, may cause him to reach for noise cancelling headphones while listening to loud music may be fine. Sudden loud noises, such as an emergency vehicle sirens, can also cause difficulties. Kieran has been working part of the time at home during the lockdowns. I’ve tried to avoid doing the washing or putting the hoover over on the days that he’s worked at home. Although he can just about cope, he will usually have to shut doors to help him cope better. Being sensitive to touch and noise has made haircuts difficult for Kieran and so they still get done at home by my husband, so Kieran can take a break when needed. Although taste isn’t too much of an issue for him, anything that looks different won’t get eaten. For instance, Kieran will eat rice, but not risotto because the rice used in a risotto feels strange in the mouth as it is too big. He’s reluctant to eat a dish if there are large leafed herbs in it as they look too much like leaves off a garden plant! He’s also won’t try anything different at a restaurant, in case he doesn’t like it. In the past he has tried a bit of what I’ve chosen, so that he can have it next time if he likes it. Kieran also has a very poor sense of smell, which, to be honest, can be beneficial at times, not least when we used to visit my Mum when she was alive and the local farmers were muckspreading out in the fields!

Change

Kieran finds change hard at times, especially if it’s last minute change or no reason has been given for the change. Often this gets dismissed by others as “Well, no-one like change really!”. However, for Kieran it can be very confusing and distressing – keeping in a regular routine is much easier. As you are aware, there has been a lot of change happening throughout the world these last 12 months. Thankfully, Kieran has coped pretty well, partly due to there being warning of things like lockdown coming. The school where he works also gave him a few days warning that they wanted him to work some of the week at home. Now that most school children are returning to the school building, he’s had advanced warning that he’ll be back in the building every day again. With a little bit of warning, Kieran can manage change as well as most people, but last minute changes can lead to a meltdown.

But there are positives!

These are just a few of the ways that Kieran finds life difficult – trust me, there are many more! It all sounds like having Aspergers can be awful and, although life can be hard at times, it has a lot of positives too. So let’s end on some of those. Firstly, I have the most loving, kind, caring young man living in our house. He’ll often offer to give me a hug if I get upset about something, despite the fact that he can find hugs difficult. When I was diagnosed with depression, he would help and support in any way that he could. He will occasionally pop into the local shops on the way home from work and I find that he has bought an extra chocolate bar as a treat for me. As I mentioned earlier, he loves technology and this has led him to working in a school as their IT Assistant. This also means that we get the benefit of his expert help at home when our technology decides to stop working properly. He helps out on the tech team at church which means he’s been in the church building on a regular basis during this last lockdown, which has helped the church livestream services, but also kept some routine in Kieran’s life too. He’s a brilliant puppeteer and video editor for Peckett Puppets, which has kept us all going during lockdown. Kieran has a fantastic sense of humour and is regularly making us laugh with puns, funny comments and silly faces. He’s a real joy to have living with us.

So you see, having Aspergers may be hard at times, but it’s also pretty awesome!

Lynnette

(Written with permission from and reviewed by Kieran)

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When It’s Time to Get Out Of The Boat

One of my favourite characters in the Bible is Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter often did and said things before he’d properly thought about what might happen as a result. One of these times was just after Jesus had fed the 5,000 people. Jesus had sent the people away and had told the disciples to head over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while he went off to pray. The Bible tells us that their boat was a long way from land and being pounded by the waves. The disciples then see a figure walking across the water and assume that it was a ghost. It was, of course, Jesus and he tells them that it’s him and not to be afraid. This is where Peter speaks, I assume without thinking too much. He says: “If it is you, tell me to come out to you on the water!”. When Jesus says “Come!”, I imagine Peter giving one almighty gulp, knowing that he’d have to do it or risk embarrassment in front of his friends. Peter does, of course, do it and, although he starts to sink when his attention is taken away from Jesus, I reckon he still felt pretty chuffed that he took the risk of getting out of the boat. Peter literally stepped out of his comfort zone!

I don’t know about you, but I much prefer staying in my comfort zone. It’s where life is easier – you know what you’re doing, so you’re not likely to make a huge embarrassment of yourself or get judged if things go wrong. What if God has other plans though? What if he wants you to do something that is difficult, something that you might struggle with, something that others might judge you for? Do you do it or do you make a million excuses why you can’t do it? God has often taken me out of my comfort zone in recent years. I suspect he tried for many years before that, but I made every excuse I could to stay nice and comfortable. Sometimes it’s felt like I’ve said “I’m never doing….” and God has taken it as a challenge and I’ve ended up doing it!

Back in March 2017, I became the Additional Needs Coordinator at Teddington Baptist Church. This was a role which regularly took me outside of my comfort zone and yet I loved doing it! It led me to doing a fair amount of public speaking on the subject of additional needs – to my own church as well as to people in the Thames Valley Baptist group of churches and at a London Baptist Association service. It also led to me leading a discussion group at the Boost conference in Crawley in 2018. Although I don’t have that role any more as we’re now at a different church, I was still given the opportunity to speak at a Through The Roof’s Roofbreaker event at St George’s Christian Centre in Ashstead in February 2020. Each of these speaking opportunities took me a long way outside of my comfort zone, but the response from those listening was extremely positive.

Another way I’ve left my comfort zone is through writing. English was one of my least favourite subjects at school (the other being French) and I was never a confident writer. I often added #NotAWriter on any post on social media when I mentioned that I had to do any writing and I really didn’t believe that I was any good at writing. As I said earlier, God often has different plans! Whilst I was the Additional Needs Coordinator, I wrote an inclusion policy and a sensory profile for the church. They’ve been shared with about 50 other churches and organisations to date, which I find incredible. I’ve also started this blog after guest writing for a couple of blogs. I really needed a lot of encouragement from friends to get started and then had huge fear before hitting ‘publish’. Although I still find it hard to think of myself as a writer, people seem to be reading and enjoying my posts.

We all seem to have times when Zoom (other video call services are available) has had to be used over this last year. I find this also takes me outside of my comfort zone and I end up with Zoom anxiety. I’m thankful that our weekly church service is live streamed via YouTube as it means I can ‘go’ to church. I’ve not been to many church meetings on Zoom since the first lockdown due to the anxiety that it causes. I have been working to overcome this by attending a weekly quiz, Fish for Answers, on Zoom with my family. Although it still causes anxiety, it is easier as there’s not the pressure on me to speak like there would be in a meeting.

So how do I manage to leave my comfort zone? Well, it’s not easy due to anxiety and Imposter Syndrome, but here’s a few things that help me and maybe they’ll help you too.

Prayer

As as Christian, I find praying about what I’ve been asked to do essential. I pray for whether it’s something I should be doing and if so, I ask God for help to do it. I also send out messages to some amazing friends asking if they will pray for me. Usually their replies arrive within a few minutes assuring me of their prayers and also giving any help and advice that they think will be useful. If it involves me speaking somewhere, I know that they’ll pray during the time that I’m speaking and I often feel a sense of calm whilst I’m speaking. I really couldn’t do it without their support!

Songs

Over the years, I’ve found that God uses songs to speak to me. Often, after I’ve prayed, a song will enter my head with just the words I need to hear. Here is just one example – when I spoke to the Thames Valley District group of churches, the song that I was reminded of after praying was ‘No Longer Slaves’ which has the line “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God”. I really needed reminding of that! Although I still shook like a leaf, the words came out clearly and God used me to encourage others to think about how to make sure disabled people were included in the life of their church. So, maybe try listening to some music and see if God’s trying to tell you what you need to hear through them.

Breathing

This may sound like common sense, but when you leave your comfort zone you can forget how to breathe. You may barely breathe or, if you’re like me, may breathe so fast you can hardly catch your breath. I find that spending a few minutes concentrating on some deep breathing helps to regulate your breathing and calm you down. I now have a Fitbit and one of the modes on it is a ‘Relax’ mode, which helps me concentrate on my breathing. If you don’t have one of these you can try using the ‘Lazy 8’ breathing technique where you trace round a figure of 8 lying on its side, concentrating on your breathing as you do so.

Practise

Whenever I’ve had to speak I’ve found it much easier if I’ve practised beforehand. It can be done in the comfort of your own home, either on your own or with family members as your ‘audience’. It helps you get familiar with the words that you have to say and there will (hopefully!) be less chance of you tripping over your words when you come to speak in front of your real audience.

Family and Friends

I’ve already said how I get people to pray for me, but I also enlist their help when writing anything. Once I think it’s ready to publish on the blog or ready to be spoken to an audience, I get my family (and sometimes a friend) to have a read through for me. This helps because they spot any errors for me and let me know whether it makes sense, which in turn saves me from embarassment! They’ve also been known to remind me of something that needs to be included! This all helps me feel more confident before I take that final step out of my comfort zone.

Take small steps

If you start by taking small steps outside of your comfort zone, you’re more likely to succeed. If I had started to write a book instead of a blog, it would never have got written as I’d have seen it like trying to climb Mount Everest and would have given up. By writing a blog, there’s only a few words that need to be written and also no deadline by when it needs to be finished. So, although it’s still outside of my comfort zone, it’s do-able. It’s the same with speaking in public. If I had started off with having to preach a sermon, I’d have run in the opposite direction and I doubt if I’d have ever spoken publicly. With each small step more things are beginning to end up in my comfort zone!

Be prepared to say “No”

If you really feel that you’ll get too stressed by doing something that you’ve been asked to do, then you are allowed to say “No”. Having said that, it’s something that I find really hard to do as I don’t want to let anyone down. I’ve found it helpful to leave answering for a day or two and then I reply by email as somehow that’s easier. If someone has asked me to my face, then I ask for some time to think about it before I reply (usually by email!). I’m getting better at saying “No” to things that I think will be too much outside of my comfort zone, but it can still be a struggle. However I’ve learnt that it’s important to my mental health to not always say “Yes”.

I’m living proof that it is possible to do things you thought you’d never do, so long as you do it when you’re ready. Oh, and include God in the plans too – it really helps! I’m off to get out of my comfort zone again by attending some training via Zoom, so I’ll leave the final word to our vicar, Rev Allen Bower who said this in his sermon on 17th January 2021: “When we step into a place of risk, that’s when God uses us”

Lynnette

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Childhood Bereavement – The Club I Didn’t Want To Join

Today would have been my Dad’s 89th Birthday. However, on 28th September 1980 he died from a heart attack, aged just 48. It was a Harvest Sunday at the Sunday School where I used to go. Mum and I had been out to distribute the harvest gifts to the older people on the estate where the church was. When we arrived home the dogs didn’t appear at the door to welcome us home like they usually did. We soon discovered my Dad lying on the bed. Both dogs were sitting on the floor, one dog by his head and one by his feet. It was as though they were guarding him. Mum phoned for an ambulance, although we both knew in our hearts that he was dead. That day, at the age of 13, I joined a club that I had no wish to be a member of, namely that of children who lose a parent before the age of 16.

The statistics around childhood bereavement make pretty grim reading. Here are just two statistics that can be found on the Childhood Bereavement Network website:

  • It was estimated in 2015 that 23,600 parents died in the UK and left dependent children – that’s one parent every 22 minutes
  • The last time a national survey was done (in 2004) approximately 3.5% of children aged 5-16 had been bereaved of a parent or sibling (about 1 in 29 children) before they reached age 16 – that’s about one per class

Sadly, due to Covid-19, there may have been an even higher number of bereaved children over the last few months. Each child will react differently to the death. I know that initially I found it impossible to cry about it and many people assumed that either it hadn’t affected me that much or that I was very hard hearted. In reality it was because I was in so much shock about it! I went in to school the day after Dad’s death as I didn’t want Mum to have to phone the school to explain why I wasn’t there. However, she did phone the school and explained to them what had happened and asked that they kept an eye on me. Sadly not one member of staff came to see me to check how I was from that day until the day I left the school. Thankfully schools appear to have improved on how they care for bereaved children these days! I experienced a very different kind of teenage life. I would go to the church youth club and to the occasional school disco, but I didn’t really want to go out that often and leave Mum alone (my brother had just started studying to be a marine engineer at college in Plymouth). Things like shopping, fashion, make up & boys became far less important in my world and in lots of ways I had to grow up pretty quickly.

Although Dad died 40 years ago, I can still find dealing with it difficult at times. I never know how I will be feeling on the anniversary of his death. This year I was fine, other years I can be a crying mess – there seems to be no pattern to it. There are still times when I wish I could talk to him and ask for his advice. Then there are all those times that he hasn’t been there (wedding, children being born, new jobs, wedding anniversaries etc.) My first thought after telling my Mum that I’d got engaged was: “I can’t wait to get home and tell Dad!” before realising that he’d been dead for 5 years! Although my brother did a fantastic job, I really missed not having my Dad walk me down the aisle when I got married. It was also difficult knowing that your children will always have one grandparent that they never got to meet. One rather strange reaction to Dad dying is that I have virtually no childhood memories before the age of 13. It’s like a shutter has come down on them. I have a few ‘memories’ that I’ve managed to learn from what other family members have told me, but they’re very light on detail. I also find it difficult when I hear of other children who have been bereaved, especially if it’s of a parent. Although we live in completely different worlds, my heart went out to Princes William & Harry when I heard of Princess Diana’s death. I could understand a little of what they might be feeling losing a parent so young. I’ve also had to leave the room when a child whose parent has died is talking about it on Children in Need as it just reopens the wound a little. There are also many questions in my mind too – “Would he be proud of me?”, “Would he have got on with my husband and children?”, “What kind of grandfather would he have been?”…… The biggest question (and one that has caused me to feel guilty at times) is “If I’d stayed home that day, might he have lived?” I could have used CPR (having been taught it at junior school) and could also have called an ambulance, if only I’d not gone out with Mum. In reality the answer to the question is probably “No” as we were told that he had a massive heart attack, but sometimes it still makes me wonder whether I could have done something to help him.

So, what can you do to help a bereaved child? Here are some ideas:

Talk about the person

This is so important! After Dad died very few people would talk with me about him. It felt like he had never existed. I know people are worried that they make the bereaved person cry (don’t worry, you probably will!), but they really do want to talk about the person who has died. It honestly doesn’t matter if they cry – in fact, it may even help their grief.

Don’t assume the child isn’t grieving

Children don’t always grieve as adults expect. As I said earlier, I initially found it impossible to cry. Other children may go off to play with their favourite toy or go on the computer after hearing of a loved one’s death. They may go very quiet or be the exact opposite! My son has Aspergers and after his Nan died he didn’t really show any typical signs of grief, but meltdowns became far more common. Children do grieve, but not always the same way as adults.

Let them have a say on whether they go to the funeral

When Dad died, the school persuaded my Mum to send me on a school activity trip as planned instead of going to the funeral as a “funeral is no place for a child”. I suspect it had more to do with the school having to try and sort out a very last minute cancellation at the activity centre rather than my wellbeing! Whilst I enjoyed the climbing, abseiling & canoeing, I didn’t really feel like I got to say “Goodbye” to Dad until a year later when I saw his name in the memorial book at the crematorium. I avoid going to most funerals (basically I’ll only turn up at a funeral if you’re immediate family or a very good friend!) and I’m fairly sure not going to Dad’s funeral has helped cause this fear of funerals. It’s very important that children get the same chance to say “Goodbye” to someone who has been a big part of their lives as adults do. Not every child will want to go to the funeral, but at least include them in the decision on whether they go or not. Having taken my daughter to my Nan’s funeral when she was just coming up to age 3, I can say that it not only helped her to understand a bit about what happened to Nan Fry, but her acting like a typical 3 year old helped a lot of the adults too!

Listen

Listening to what the child has to say is so important. If you’re not their parent, they may feel more comfortable to tell you how they’re feeling. Children don’t always want to tell their parent how they’re feeling as the don’t want to add to the worry that the parent is already feeling.  There’s a saying that ‘God gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason’, so make sure you listen twice as much as you speak! It will really help the child!

Be careful what you say

Sometimes things are said to a bereaved person which hurt them more than help them. Some of the ones I’ve experienced are:

  • “Only the good die young” – This implied that anyone that lived longer than my Dad was obviously not as good as him. Also did it mean that I had to aspire to being so good that I’d die young?
  • “God needed him more” – As a child of 13, I just wanted to scream when I heard this because as far as I was concerned no one, not even God, needed him more than me!
  • “They’ve done everything that God needed them to do” – Another one that wanted to make me scream. I saw it that Dad hadn’t finished bringing me up yet, so he hadn’t done everything God needed him to do.
  • “He’s gone to a better place” – As a Christian, I do believe that my Dad is in heaven and that heaven is a better place than Earth. However, I’d still much prefer him to be here.
  • “You still have a Heavenly Father” – Whilst I know this and it is comforting, there are still times when you want your earthly father too. One of the times this was said to me was when I was getting married and had mentioned how I wish my Dad could have been able to walk me down the aisle. I knew God would be with me that day, but still wanted Dad there too.

Pray

As a Christian I believe in praying for other people especially if they’re going through tough situations. Don’t just pray for the adults who are grieving, but pray for the children too. If you’re not local to the family, maybe contact a parent, aunt, uncle etc and find out how the children are doing and see what they’re finding difficult at the moment. They may not be talking much, but there will be lots of non verbal communication going on. Use the information you find out to shape your prayers. A word of warning though – sometimes God uses you to be the answer to your prayer, so be prepared for getting involved and helping!

Activities that can help

  • Drawing – Often when a child draws a picture they will either talk about it whilst they are drawing or once they’ve finished it. A bereaved child may draw pictures which include the person who has died. By talking about the picture it encourages them to talk about the person and it can help with the grieving process.
  • Memory Box – This can be just a small box which can be decorated by the child. Once decorated it can be filled with various items which help the child remember the person who has died. It can include anything that the child wants to put in it to remember the person and may include things like photos, favourite scarf or tie, a book that they liked, a card that was sent to the child.
  • Photo Album or Photo Book – Often there are more photos than can fit in a memory box, so you could make a photo album or photo book as a special item for the child. Allow the child to choose which photos go in. They may not be what you would choose, but they will be important to the child.
  • Sand Bottle – You can get different coloured sand these days, so you could let the child choose a different coloured sand for various memories of the person who died. Layer each colour of sand in an empty bottle or jar. Maybe the child would choose yellow because the person was always happy, green because they liked gardening, red for their favourite football team, blue because they liked swimming etc When the child looks at it, they will be able to remember the different things that made the person who they were.

If you were bereaved as a child it’s worth joining a Facebook group called Adults Bereaved as Children. It’s run by Winston’s Wish and is a place where other people have been through similar experiences and they can understand how you’re feeling. If you’re supporting a child through bereavement then maybe head over to Winston’s Wish website for ideas on how to get support.

I hope this post has helped you learn a little of how it can feel to be bereaved as a child and also how to help a child who is bereaved.

Lynnette

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Not Our Expected Sunday

Last Sunday started out pretty much like any other Sunday. My husband had got up and made me breakfast in bed – just one of many reasons I love him! Our son had also got up and made sure everything was ready for him to go to church to do sound for today’s service. After he had left, I got ready and then my husband and I also left for church.

As it was a lovely day we decided to walk the 3 miles to church. We were about halfway there when my phone rang. It was the church Worship Leader informing me that our son had had a seizure which had lasted about 3 minutes, that an ambulance had been called and asking if there was anything extra they could do to help. Another friend came to pick us up from where we were and we were soon at the church. Our son was lying on the floor with a paramedic by his side. Before we knew it , he was being put into the back of an ambulance. As he has Aspergers and is also needle phobic, I was given permission to go to hospital with him. On our way, I messaged a few friends to ask them to pray. Very soon, messages arrived assuring me that we were being prayed for.

We arrived at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey and were whisked into the A&E department, where several tests were taken including the much dreaded blood tests. After he’d had his blood taken, I was asked to leave and advised to sit in the waiting area. It was pretty empty and felt a lonely place to be. I decided to put a post on Facebook to let friends know what had happened. It seemed like I had sat there for hours, although I know it wasn’t, before someone came to give me an update. It wasn’t the best news – Kieran had had another seizure. It was a much shorter seizure than the first one. It had only lasted about 45 seconds this time, but would mean that he would probably be kept in overnight. I was advised to wait before going home as one of the medical team looking after him would be coming to talk to me. Almost immediately, the Worship Leader from church phoned me which was great as I could pass on the latest news to her. Normally I find phone calls difficult to cope with, but that phone call was just what I needed – it was so good to hear a friendly voice. God knew what I needed!! Messages started to come in thick and fast via Facebook, WhatsApp and text. In some ways it was so overwhelming and may have caused me to have something in my eye on several occasions, but it was so wonderful to know people cared and were sending love, virtual hugs and praying. Soon, a doctor came to talk to me and said that he needed an x-ray as he was complaining of back pain and that they would definitely be admitting him. I was advised to go home. I was asked if I could say “Goodbye” to him and was told “No”, which is understandable in the current circumstances, but as a Mum it was hard to hear.

I decided to walk back to the station, rather than get a bus, so I could clear my head a bit. My husband rang whilst I was on the way and I immediately broke down when I heard his voice. I’d really missed his support during the day! We chatted for a bit and when I felt a bit more compossed, he rang off and I continued on my way. I’d got to the station to find I’d just missed the train and the next one wasn’t for an hour. I bought a ticket home and waited on the platform for the train. After a few minutes, my phone rang – it was the hospital. My heart raced! Had he had another seizure, was there another problem….so many questions wnet through my head, all in a split second. Thankfully, it was just to say that he was having a CT scan and provided the results were clear, he’d be able to go home. I almost ran back to the hospital!

It was a long 2 hour wait, but finally a doctor came to see me. However, it wasn’t the news I’d been hoping for….he was being admitted after all. The hospital were waiting for our local hospital to send over his last CT scan results so they could compare them with the one done that day. They hadn’t been received, so they couldn’t discharge him. Needless to say it seemed a long, lonely walk back to the station. When I arrived back in Feltham, my husband was waiting for me and I collapsed into his arms and the tears flowed. Although I was utterly exhausted, we walked home so we could talk as we walked along. It was good to be home, but it somehow felt strange without Kieran there.

After a restless night, I woke hoping to hear from the hospital that Kieran could come home. By lunchtime I’d heard nothing, so decided to phone the hospital. As I said earlier I find phone calls difficult, but this was a case of ‘needs must’, so I took a deep breath & dialled the number. They tried to transfer me to the nurse in charge of looking after Kieran, but she was busy. As a result, I was passed on to have a chat with Kieran which was absolutely brilliant! We had a lovely chat whilst waiting for the nurse to be free. He mentioned that he was fine, but bored as his phone battery had now died. That chat really put my mind at rest that he was doing well and I felt more hopeful that he’d be home soon. When I spoke with the nurse she said that they were hoping he’d be home later that day or the following day. They were waiting on yet another call from our local hospital about Kieran’s medication. She then passed me back to Kieran so we could say “Goodbye”.

I posted an update on Facebook and happened to mention that Kieran was bored as his phone battery had died and he didn’t have his charger with him. Within minutes a friend messaged me to say if I wanted her to take a bag of things that he might need (including a battery charger!) to the hospital for him, she would. I hurriedly got a bag together and within half an hour or so it was on the way to the hospital to be passed onto Kieran. It was just a small act of kindness, but it meant the world to us. I sat at home waiting for my phone to ring to give me an update, when I noticed there was a WhatsApp message……from Kieran! It said to save us going to the hospital, they were booking transport for him – he was coming home! He arrived home and was given a gentle, but big hug. I then updated the good people on social media that he was home which seemed to trigger a massive outpouring of joy & love!

God has promised to always be with us (Immanuel) and he certainly was during all of this. He was there through the people who helped Kieran (those at the church and the NHS staff). He was also there through all the people who checked in with us, offered practical help and prayed for us. We have really seen God’s love in action over the last few days and for that we are so thankful.

Wishing you a very Happy Christmas

Lynnette

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2020 – A Positive Year?

It’s almost the end of 2020 and if we’re honest it’s been a year like no other! This time last year I doubt anyone could have imagined Covid 19 arriving and all the changes it would bring to us. We’ve been wearing masks, many have been furloughed from work, have had two national lockdowns, Zoom has become a regular part of our lives and so much more. Sadly, there has also been many families who have loved ones become ill and in some cases they’ve died. On the day that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved for use in the UK, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said, “2020 has been just a terrible year, hasn’t it?” In some ways he’s correct, but has it been all bad? Has there been nothing positive in our lives?

As I look back over 2020, I’ve tried to see the positives rather than the negatives. This isn’t to say that I’ve not been affected by what’s happened this year. My mental health has been a bit of a rollercoaster at times and I’ve had anxiety about using buses, wearing masks, using Zoom etc. I’ve only spoken to a handful of people outside of my immediate family since March and there have been many friends that I’ve been unable to meet up with. However, I’ve found that looking out for the positive moments each day has had a positive impact on my mental health. So what have been some of those positive moments? Here are just five:

Weekend Walks

At the start of the first lockdown, we took the decision to go for a walk every Saturday as a family. We had talked about doing regular walks at the weekend for many years, but lockdown prompted us to actually start them! Initially, it was only walk on a Saturday, but quickly a post church walk for myself and my husband became a thing too! These walks have not only helped both our physical & mental health, but have also given us time to spend together as a family. Amazingly, there have only been a few walks that have had to be cancelled due to poor weather.

Nature

One benefit of lockdown is that I’ve noticed the world around me a lot more. I’ve spent more time at home, so have watched the birds visiting the bird table. I can now recognise the song of the robin and blackbird. The sparrows and starlings can be really bullies to one another and I’ve seen many an angry confrontation between them when it comes to who should be on the bird feeders. We’ve also had a sparrowhawk come into the garden (I didn’t even realise we had sparrowhawks in this area!). I’ve noticed the seasons change in more detail than I normally do, squirrels chasing along the back fence, butterflies and bees flitting from one flower to another. On our walks we’ve watched ducks with their ducklings, deer and swans in Bushy Park, ladybirds, leaves changing colour as Autumn approached and then them falling as Winter started to arrive and flowers blooming and then fading as they then went on to produce seed heads. Noticing the world around me has been a real blessing and has been a little bit of normal life in the midst of the strange times we’re all in.

Peckett Puppets

My husband & son have used puppets within church for many years, but in 2020 Peckett Puppets were born! I heard the theme song for Spring Harvest’s Big Start (the morning all age session) and thought it would be great for the puppets to perform. We contacted Spring Harvest who agreed that we could use it. We soon produced a video of “Glow” and uploaded on to YouTube. It has had just over 900 views to date. There have since been another 8 videos uploaded (with more planned) and the puppets now have a Facebook page, Twitter profile and Instagram account in addition to YouTube. Two of the videos were made initially for our church services and other videos have been used by different churches too. From having little to do with the puppets previously, I have now become the stage manager and social media manager for them. At times it has been hard work, but it has also been a lot of fun.

Writing

Having said that I wasn’t a writer and would never write anything, 2020 has been the year when I’ve started writing! I was never good at English at school, so never thought I’d write anything that could be published. I much preferred Science and Maths and it took me until the 6th form for me to get my English O Level. However, this is my 2nd blog post of the year. My first blog post was written for a friend’s blog a few weeks ago (you can find it here). Since then a few more ideas for blog posts have surfaced in my brain, so I thought it might be time to dip my toe in the world of blogging. I’ll be honest that I don’t know how good I’ll be, but I’m going to give it a go.

Church Services

Going to church has always been an important part of my life, but back in March the way we went to church changed. Church buildings were closed and services (and other church meetings) went online. Going to church for a large part of 2020 has meant walking downstairs about 9.30am, sitting in my chair with a cup of tea and accessing the service via YouTube. I’ll be honest, initially it felt really strange worshipping as a group of 3. However, we soon got used to it and God was able to use those online services to teach us and speak to us. We are very grateful to all those who worked behind the scenes for approximately 7 months to bring the services to us. We went back into the church building for the first time on 1st November (ironically the day before the 2nd lockdown!). Due to restricted numbers the church livestreamed the service and I’m hopeful that this will continue in the future. Services resumed in the building again on 6th December and we will continue with a mix of ‘in building’ and ‘online’ services

Yes, 2020 hasn’t been the year we had hoped for, but there are positives. These are just five of mine. What could you include as your top five?

Lynnette

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